Why Hire a Consultant?

January 2, 2015

 

We've often heard principals of small or midsize companies express their reticence to hire a consultant. They think managing the company is their job and they shouldn't need help. But, Tiger Woods employs a swing coach, the Williams sisters make use of tennis coaches, and Nolan Ryan had a pitching coach.

While these athletes are or were among the best in their respective sports, their coaches have helped make them better than they would have been on their own.

 

The CEO's of the world's largest and most successful companies routinely engage management consulting firms such as McKinsey, Bain, BCG, or Booze, Allen. Again, these CEO's are among the most gifted people in their fields. Many have MBA's from top tier business schools. All have years of experience. Yet, they hire consultants to help their companies to become more successful. Clearly some of the most accomplished people in sports and in business see value in external counsel.

 

Many small business owners began their companies specifically because they were good at doing the primary work of the business. We spoke to the owner of a security business (a provider of burglar alarms, smoke detectors and surveillance equipment). He told us that he started his business because he thought that he could do a better job than the man for whom he was working. Similarly, a nurse started a home healthcare business after she was unable to find acceptable care for her dying father.

 

These people are outstanding in their field. Consequently, their businesses have grown substantially. But, just because a person is a good burglar alarm installer or a good nurse is no indication that they have a detailed understanding of the nuances of running a multimillion dollar business. No matter the industry, leading a midsize company requires a skill set that is fundamentally different than that which is needed to do the primary work of the business.

 

Admittedly, many of these entrepreneurs will eventually figure out solutions to their problems through trial and error because they are smart and hard working. They'll try something. If it doesn't work well, they'll make improvements. Eventually they will figure things out. But, reinventing the wheel is unnecessarily costly and time consuming. We've spoken to numerous owners of successful midsize businesses who have confided that their companies almost went bankrupt as they learned valuable lessons about how to run a business. Other, less fortunate, businesses didn't make it.

 

If you want to design a house, you could start from scratch. You could learn how thick footings should be by trial and error. You could discover on your own how residential electrical wiring and plumbing work. You could buy a book and try to figure out the functioning of an HVAC system. But, you wouldn't. You'd begin by talking to an architect or a contractor. You'd learn what was possible and what wasn't, what cost too much, what was unsafe and what options were available. You'd take advantage of centuries of accumulated knowledge regarding how to build a house. The house would still be your house. You wouldn't abdicate decisions about what rooms would be in the house, what appliances would go into the kitchen, or what chandelier to hang in the foyer. But, you would seek help from experts.

 

Running your business is at least as complex as building a house. When making important decisions, benefit from the mistakes of others, build on the accumulated knowledge that already exists, seek the help of experts. By definition entrepreneurs are people who like to go it alone and do things on their own. They are not afraid to take risks. In this case, resist the temptation. It's the smart thing to do. Take wise counsel.

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